Your Privilege Is Showing...

I normally use these introductions to set up the conversation you’re about to read. I’ll explain a little about the article that inspired it. I’ll highlight whatever aspect my reader had an issue with. Sometimes I’ll even provide a little context or back story.

Today I can’t do any of that, mainly because I’m still not sure what the heck our conversation was meant to be about!

In my article, The Rise Of The Racism Industry, I wrote about the ways in which the struggles of black people have become fetishised to an unhealthy degree. So much so, that it seems black people’s stories only have value if they focus on racism or oppression.

Jas objected to something about this, but despite us going back and forth for a while, I’m still none the wiser about what it was. All I know for sure is that it had something to do with my privilege:


Jas:

Your privilege is showing. I was on a lunch break today and I opened my daily email from Medium. Your piece was in the mix. It was rated a 4 min read so I opened it. It made me wish I happened read it. It reminded me how I once thought before I realized how previliged I was in my thinking. I grew in a lower middle class Mexican American household during the 60' & 70's in Southwest Texas. . I am the 11th out of 12. My parents did the best they could. I always had food to eat and clean clothes to wear. I learned when I was young that I was and would always be considered "less than" simply because of my ethincity. So I understood the stuggle, I lived it.

When I was 19 I move to Georgia in 1981 (chasing a girl) and lived in the South for 15 years. In the South you are either White or Black. Due to my light skin and no accent I was afforded White privilege. Yes I worked hard, did and said all the right things and married White. Every time I visited home to see my family it seemed we would get further and further apart in our politics, world view, and our outlook on life. I felt like I moved forward and they stayed still never moving beyond what they were when I left. We all did well for ourselves.

What I didn't realize until years later was they stayed in the struggle. I was lucky, I moved to place where my ethincity didn't matter so much so long as looked, acted, and sounded White enough.

I am back in the struggle, It's a little different now because I am still received as being White. I have gone somewhat full circle being back in the struggle.


Now, if you look very, very carefully, you’ll notice that Jas’ reply has absolutely nothing to do with my article. Just to clarify, the word “privilege” appears precisely zero times in the piece.

In fact, aside from the reference to white privilege, Jas’ reply can’t even be said to be related to race or racism at all, and if not for the single reference to my privilege, it’s hard to say what it has to do with me! I asked for some clarification.


Steve QJ:

I honestly have no idea what a single word of this has to do with anything I've written. Is your story about your white privilege supposed to have something to do with me, a black man who you know nothing about? Or did you just feel the need to make this about you?


Jas:

It’s a little personal history to make a point. You obviously do not have White privilege. And you are correct I know nothing about you. I read your words and I sense you either come from privilege or have obtained some privilege. There is nothing wrong with either.

I, having been born into a minority like yourself I get a sense (from reading your perspectives) maybe you despite your minority status were born into a more privileged household than I was born into. If you were it seems you took advantage of the opportunity given to you by your parents. Glad you didn’t take it for granted.

Despite my very humble beginnings and minority status I stumbled by chance into privilege simply by relocating to a state that didn’t border Mexico. At the time being both blind to it and blind because of it I failed to recognize the privilege.

I recognize it now and even though I still benefit from some degree of White privilege being trans puts me back into the struggle.

All my siblings have done well despite the struggle they face in Texas. Where I believed the struggle didn’t exist anymore or criticize some for using the struggle as a crutch or only focusing on the struggle and not taking responsibility and accountability for one’s decisions and actions I failed to understand how privileged I was.

Here in New Hampshire I am a White trans woman in Texas I am a Mexican trans woman. I am privileged up here but I can’t live up here and ignore the struggle just because I don’t face it as much or criticize others for only focusing on the struggle whether or not they profit from it. The struggle is real and it needs to be kept front and center.

You can be Black and have privilege just not White privilege.


With every reply, I learn more about Jas and less about the point she’s trying to make. I know where she’s lived, I know she’s trans, I know that she has brothers and sisters, I know that she “married White”, (ugh, what a gross way to put it), yet I still don’t know why she’s telling me any of this.

I use the word “narcissism” over and over again when talking about certain aspects of modern social justice, and this is why. I honestly suspect she doesn’t even realise that whilst trying to talk to me, she’s only talking about herself.


Steve QJ:

It’s a little personal history to make a point.

The problem being that you didn't get around to making your point. You "sense" my privilege? Do you hear yourself? No, I wasn't born into privilege at all. If it were any of your business I'd explain in detail how wrong you are.

And yet here again, almost your entire reply is just more of you centering yourself and your story. Do you even notice that you're doing it?! Your failure to recognise your privilege is nothing to do with me. Please don't project your failings onto the rest of the world.

If you have an actual point to make which isn't based on mind reading or projection I'd love to hear it. Otherwise I'm not sure what we're doing here.


Jas:

Yes I have failings, everybody does and I try to recognize them and learn from them. My point is there in my first response and in my second response you just didn't get it and that's OK. You will never see yourself in my stories just like I never saw myself in the stories I was told. Back then I was so passionate about my beliefs and like most things as we get older we find there is always information we missed or just didn't understand. I find your hostility very telling. You don't have to respond to my responses to our pieces. I will read your pieces every now and then just to see if you evolve in your thinking. Things are much faster these days as the access to information is at our fingertips. I will get better at my storytelling and you will evolve in your thinking and one day you will recognize your privilege, we all do sooner or later. Take care


“You don't have to respond to my responses to our pieces.”

This is true Jas. Of course, you don’t have to respond to my pieces either! But if you choose to, I’d hope you have some feedback that might be useful, or at least relevant.

I particularly appreciated the “Take care” at the end. A passive-aggressive attempt to end a conversation that isn’t panning out as hoped. But I still dared to dream that there was a glimmer of self-awareness just around the bend.


Steve QJ:

You will never see yourself in my stories

I will never see myself in your stories because I'm not IN your stories. Nothing you've said about yourself bears any resemblance to my life.

And no, I’m not being hostile. The only minor irritation I'm feeling is based on the fact that a stranger on the internet believes they can read my mind or knows anything about my life. It's just breathtakingly arrogant.

I responded because I thought there might be a critique of some substance of something I'd actually written. Something I'm always interested in. If you think I'm wrong or think I could have done something better, I'll be happy to have a civil discussion about it. As I am with anybody who comments on my writing.

But if you act as if you know me when you don't and project your issues onto me while knowing nothing about me, then I (as would anybody), am going to point that out to you.


Jas:

You are not suppose to see yourself in my stories just like I could't see myself in the stories that were told to me. These are my stories of re-thinking, learning and self discovery. Everybody has them and I shared mine as my example of learning about the White privilege I was afforded but never recoginized it until I learned the phrase. Just like I knew I was different but I didn't have the words to express how I felt until I learned the word transgender. I used to debate the issues but got tired of the conversation because it either ended with an agreeement to disagree or referring to each other as idiots or idealogues. My employeess would ask for advise but they seem to never take the advise. I stopped debating and giving advise why waste my time. One day an employee stayed after his shift asking for my advise. I told him I don't give advise but I was willing to listen. He told me about his situation and it reminded me of a past situation I had to deal with that was kinda similar but not really. I told him the story and the decision I had to make and the outcome. He thanked me for listening and said my story was interesting but had nothing to do with his issue. I week later the kid told me how he solved his situation and said after thinking about it my story actually helped him understand his situation better. So now I tell stories instead.

There is this long quote from Gandhi but basically it's "thoughts become your words, yours words become your behavior, your behavior become your habits, your habits become your values and your values become your destiny."

I don't know anything about you, your age, education, where you grew up, sexual orintation and political ideology. But I have read your words and your words tell me a great deal about you. You have a consistent theme in your writing so if I follow Gandhi logic I have an image that I believe tell me a lot about you. That is why I said your privilege is showing because it is showing. Privilege clouds ones ability to understand the issue.

As in our first encounter, not being trans and having the privilege of being born cis you will never truly understand transphobia and how it is the central to all anti-trans activism.

But hey what do I know about anything, I just tell stories.


Ah! I’m not supposed to see myself in these stories! They’re just fragments of mystic wisdom passed down by my new guru that will make perfect sense when the time is right! Just as they did for that employee who is totally not made up.

I wish I could remember the first encounter she referred to here but I fear it’s been lost in the sands of time. I also wish she’d told me a story back then that would help me make sense of this conversation.


Steve QJ:

As in our first encounter, not being trans and having the privilege of being born cis you will never truly understand transphobia and how it is the central to all anti-trans activism.

Why in God's name are you talking to me about transphobia? What on Earth is going on?! 😅

You say that there's a consistent theme in my writing. Okay, great. Let's go with that. What is that theme? Point it out. "Your privilige is showing" is such an empty, worthless thing to say to somebody. Yes, I understand that privilege has many faces. Intelligence is a form of privilege. Being a native English speaker is a form of privilege. Mental health is a form of privilege.

The very fact that I'm a writer on the internet suggests I have some degree of these. So does every other reasonably successful writer.

So. F***ing. What?

Was Martin Luther King's privilege showing when he spoke? He certainly had it. He was fairly wealthy, well educated, astonishingly intelligent and articulate. He didn't live in the projects. He had the emotional maturity to control his anger and speak from compassion and righteousness instead. He opposed rioting and violence even though some black people saw it as the only way. Was that because of his privilege? To a degree, yes! His character, his strength, his decency, these are privilieges too.

So this snide little accusation of "my privilege showing" is meaningless. If you think I'm wrong, fine. Tell me why. I'm listening. But tell me based on my words that you claim tell you so much about me. Don't arrogantly tell me stories about your life as if they're parables for mine. Because whatever privilege I might be showing, the hubris you're displaying is palpable.


Jas:

You want answers, you want someone to tell you or explain to you why this piece or that piece isn't fully thought out or just one sided. I wanted that to many years ago, or that's what I thought I wanted. When people told me I got defensive and we became two lawyers trying to win the argument or make our case. I remember as a child asking my older siblings how to spell a word and they handed me a dictionary and said look it up. I replied I don't know how to spell it so how can I look it up?

At the same time I don't want to be the preacher that knows the "truth or the way" and gets on her podium and sermonize.

This is your journey not mine I am only a signpost that reads "You have been on the same path for a while, try taking another path you may find that it gives you a better view."

I will give you the last word.

Take care


I wrote recently about the perils of assuming that you know about somebody because you’ve spoken to somebody who made a similar argument. But it seems as if Jas has taken it to a level that I never quite dreamed possible. 

Here’s somebody who's so star-spangled certain that she knows everything about me, that even when I tell her point-blank that she’s wrong, it doesn’t make any difference. 

I’ll use the “last word” she so generously offered me to give one last try.


Steve QJ:

“you want someone to tell you or explain to you why this piece or that piece isn't fully thought out or just one sided”

I don't want "someone" to do anything. Don't you understand that you were the one who decided to take the time to make this vague, self-absorbed critique of my writing without ever telling me what you were actually critiquing?

If YOU decide to insinuate that I'm doing something wrong, then I expect YOU to tell me what you think that is! I'm not just going to assume that because some complete stranger on the internet feels like projecting their flaws onto me that I need to "try another path" in life. Good God, you're so narcissistic!!


So many people have been conditioned to think of privilege as a terrible, shameful thing, that as soon as they’re accused of showing it they slip into defensiveness. Which is the point. A significant proportion of “woke speak” is simply an attempt to shut down conversation.

But the simple fact that Jas has the free time to write long, self-absorbed comments on the internet, shows that she, like all of us, is privileged in many ways.

Recognising that we’re privileged (and more importantly how we’re privileged), is valuable. It helps us to recognise where our blind spots might be. It helps us to consider the needs of people whose lives are different to ours. It helps us to be more compassionate and hopefully (though clearly not always) a little less self-absorbed

But being privileged is nothing to be ashamed of. Being told you’re privileged is meaningless as an accusation or an insult, but it can be meaningful as an opportunity to learn.

Sadly, in this case, it was just an opportunity to learn about Jas.